How to Spot Depression in Others & What You Can Do to Help

This past weekend my boyfriend and I successfully raised money for San Francisco’s Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk for Suicide Prevention. I am sad to say that I have friends and family that have lost loved ones to suicide. A common statement made: “I had no idea. How could I have missed the signs?”

Though of course every case is different, educating people on the warning signs is crucial to help decrease the staggering number of lives lost daily to suicide. With these warning signs we can not only check on our friends and family- but coworkers, students, peers as well.

Let’s fight suicide together.


  1. Important statistics
  2. Symptoms of Depression
  3. How to Help Someone Battling Depression
  4. Suicide warning signs (Risk factors + Protective factors)
  5. What you can do to help
  6. Am I depressed myself?

Important Statistics: Depression

  • Depression (Major depressive disorder) affects approximately 17.3 million American adults
  • 35% of adults with depression received no treatment for it– that’s 6.5 million untreated adults
  • Depression is TREATABLE– it is one of the most treatable untreated diseases in the world.
  • People with depression are 4X as likely to have a heart attack than those without
  • 10% of new fathers suffer from postpartum depression (15% of new mothers suffer)

Important Statistics: Suicide

  • 30-70% of suicide victims suffer from major depression or bipolar disorder
  • Every 40 seconds, we lose a life to suicide
  • In the last 60 years, the rate of teenage suicide in America has tripled
  • 80% of high school students claim they have thought about committing suicide
  • More teenagers and young adults died as a result of suicide than cancer, heart disease, HIV/AIDs, birth defects, stroke and chronic lung disease combined
  • Those with substance abuse disorders are 6 times more likely to commit suicide than those without
  • Males are 4X more likely to die by suicide

“Depression is a cruel disease that can affect anyone. It is very easy, once the symptoms begin, for a person to slide down the black hole of depression where the symptoms spiral and feed off of each other- increasing in severity.” -Michelle London, PsyD Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago

Symptoms of Depression

More common in men:

  • Blames others
  • Anger
  • Paranoia
  • Creates conflict
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Compulsiveness
  • Insomnia
  • Becomes controlling
  • Shame
  • Fear of failure
  • Over status-conscious (excessively interested in one’s social status)
  • Self-medication through drugs
  • Overuse of internet/TV/email (via University of Leeds)

More common in women:

  • Self-blame
  • Sadness, apathy, worthlessness
  • Anxious, frightened
  • Avoid conflict
  • Moving or talking more slowly
  • Procrastination
  • Over sleeping
  • Difficulty maintaining boundaries
  • Guilt
  • Problems with success
  • Assumes low status
  • Self-medication through food
  • Withdrawal

Other symptoms (applies to both):

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Thoughts of death
  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • No appetite
  • Alcohol dependence
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Lost of interest in hobbies
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not cease even with treatment

How to Help Someone Battling Severe Depression

via National Suicide Prevention Lifeline


  • Do validate that they have an illness, not a weakness: With a few physical signs and so much stigma, depression can seem “fake” even to the person who has it. Acknowlegding the disease is enormously helpful
  • Do offer to help with life tasks: Bring over food. Help do laundry. Give rides to appointments. Watch the kids for an hour. Be specific in your offers. Asking what they need is overwhelming to them.
  • Do provide an escape hatch: It’s hard to go out when battling an illness. Ask if you can come over to watch TV or a movie to help distract a person from their illness. Same for video or board games.
  • Do listen: Being sick for more than a month means friends and family stop checking in. Set a reminder to check in and ask, “No, how are you REALLY doing?” This is critical.
  • Do keep trying and be patient: You might get 7 “no’s” to 7 offers to go for a walk. This doesn’t mean they don’t wanna be around you. Keep asking. The 8th offer may be the push to get momentum going. Being patient makes your offer sound safer and fun.


  • Don’t say “It’s all in your head”: Pain receptors are in our heads. If someone breaks their leg, that pain is “in their head”. Positive thinking won’t reduce the pain
  • Don’t try to make them cheer up: A person with depression is not sad. Their brain is producing the wrong balance of chemicals. They most likely can and will fake being happy to make you stop.
  • Don’t offer quick fixes: Yoga, meditation, different diets, special bracelets, religious practices that are not theirs. All the person will hear is that you are tired of dealing with their illness.
  • Don’t steer clear of topics: Let the person with depression decide if they wanna talk about a topic. Saying “suicide” won’t cause them to commit suicide. Having no one to talk to about suicidal thoughts is much worse.
  • Don’t tease or joke: Unless the person starts joking around, the teasing and joking can be painful and detrimental to building trust.
  • Don’t try to relate: If you haven’t had depression or studied it in detail, you do not understand it enough to empathize. Let the person talk. Be patient. Communicating through an illness can be difficult. Be clear that you don’t understand. Don’t say that they don’t make any sense.

Suicide Warning Signs


If a person talks about:

  • Being a burden to others
  • Feeling trapped
  • Experiencing unbearable pain
  • Having no reason to live
  • “You’d be better off without me” or “Maybe I won’t be around”


People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:

  • Expressions of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Loss of interest
  • Rage
  • Irritability
  • Humiliation
  • Anxiety
  • Personality changes
  • Lack of interest in future plans


Specific things to look out for include:

  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves (such as searching online for materials or means)
  • Acting recklessly
  • Withdrawing from activities
  • Isolating from family and friends
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Agression


8 out of 10 people considering suicide give some sign of their intentions

Relevant risk and protective factors in suicide

Risk factors:


  • Mental disorder
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Sense of isolation
  • Lack of social support
  • Agressive tendencies
  • History of trauma or abuse
  • Severe emotional distress
  • Major physical pr chronic illness, including chronic pain
  • Exposure to suicidal behaviors, including through the media, and influence of others who have died by suicide
  • Job/financial/relational losses (break-ups)

If you think someone is considering suicide

  • Trust your instincts that the person may be in trouble
  • Talk with the person about your concerns. Communication needs to include LISTENING
  • Ask direct questions without being judgmental. Determine if the person has a specific plan to carry out the suicide. The more detailed the plan, the greater the risk
  • Get professional help, even if the person resists
  • Do not leave the person alone
  • Do not swear to secrecy
  • Do not counsel the person yourself
  • Always be on toes and ready with a safety plan if you know someone who is contemplating suicide. Learn about possible triggers as well
  • Maintaining patience is important when dealing with a person having suicidal thoughts. Your agitation or restlessness can add to his/her woes
  • Motivating him/her to adopt a healthy lifestyle by eating healthy, sleeping on time, exercising regularly, etc can help in reducing suicidal tendencies

Ways to start the conversation:

  • “I have been feeling concerned about you lately.”
  • “Recently, I have noticed some differences in you and wondered how you are doing.”
  • “I wanted to check in with you because you have seemed pretty down lately.”

Questions you can ask:

  • “When did you begin feeling like this?”
  • “Did something happen that made you start feeling this way?”
  • “How can I best support you right now?”
  • “Have you thought about getting help?”


Being supportive involves offering encouragement and hope. Very often, this is a matter of talking to the person in language that they will understand and can respond to while in a depressed state of mind.

Am I depressed myself?

If you’ve read through my post and are curious if you may have depression yourself, there are online tests you can take. Of course, I strongly encourage you to speak to a professional one-on-one, but if you rather take a test first, there are resources to self-test.

(You also have to be 100% honest when answering the questions they ask to get the most accurate result)


(Click the red title to redirect you to the tests)

Depression & BiPolar Self-Test

Depression Test

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.


Thank you so much for taking the time to read through this post. Together we can save lives and truly make a difference in the world.

If you struggle with overthinking, read my [Overthinking: How it Affects Your Body & How to Stop Doing It] post

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